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The Ladder of Divine Ascent also known as “Scala, Climax Paradisi” Alexopoulos, Lampros


The “Ladder of Divine Ascent” is an ascetical treatise written by John of the Ladder (also called Scholasticus or Sinaites-of Sinai). John (579-650) received a general education and at the age of 16 he took monastic vows, lived as an anchorite at the foot of Mount Sinai and eventually became abbot of the monastery of St. Catherine of Sinai. The text is addressed to John, abbot of the Monastery of Raithou, who requested a text specifically for the spiritual benefit of the monks of his monastery. The treatise was inspired by the Biblical account of Jacob’s Ladder (Gen. 28:10 ff). The treatise consists of thirty chapters that represent the rungs of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven. The number thirty is symbolic of the thirty years of the “hidden life” of Jesus Christ. The idea behind this symbolism is that the monk, through his gradual spiritual ascension, may become a perfect man in the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. The titles of the thirty rungs-chapters of the divine ladder are named after the virtues that a monk must pursue and cultivate, and the vices that must be banished. The distinctive feature of the treatise, which is actually the cause for its special popularity, is the particularly graphic concept of the Ladder, offering thus to the fervent monk-reader a means of ascent to heaven. The imagery of the Ladder to heaven is not a Christian invention. It operated as an allegory for spiritual development long before Christianity. John’s contribution lies on the transformation of an imagery of a rather vague allegory of spiritual progress into a practical -so to speak- spiritual exercise, by identifying each step of a monk’s effort with a particular and positive achievement. Hence, with the exception of the Scriptures and the liturgical books, no other text in Eastern Christendom has been studied, copied and translated to the same extent as the “Ladder of Divine Ascent”. It was the most widely used handbook of the ascetic life in the ancient Greek Church and became very popular among monks and laymen in both East and West. It spread across the Byzantine Empire and affected Christian spiritual leaders such as Theodore the Studite, Symeon the New Theologian, Nicetas Stethatus, the Hesychastic movement, while it was pivotal in the fifteenth-century monastic revival in Russia. In the West, the treatise enjoyed popularity especially among Franciscans, Benedictines, Cistercians, the monks of Chartreuse, who also wrote commentaries on it, and to a lesser degree among Jesuits. The text was translated in Arabic and Georgian before the tenth century, into Romanian by the early seventeenth century. A Latin translation, albeit fragmentary, appeared at least as early as the eleventh century. The first Italian translation was made in 1474. The text also appeared in Portuguese in the fourteenth century, in Spanish in 1504, in French in 1603, and in German in 1834. Furthermore, among the first books printed in America was a Spanish edition of the "Ascent of the Divine Ladder", published in Mexico during the sixteenth century. The first English translation appeared as late as 1858.

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Attribution 4.0 International